Doonesburied… Doonesbury -- my favorite poorly drawn, blindingly smug comic strip -- seems to be going through Schwarzenegger gags like a stand-up comic getting his last blows in at Dan Quayle. Trudeau is trying to convince someone this stuff is a) funny, b) incisive, and c) considered topical by anyone besides Gray Davis and the rest of the Democratic losers in California. Trudeau can't blame his lead time -- ten days -- so maybe it's just a case that this is the best joke he can think of right now. Write while imagining the funny accent and hope it comes through in the word balloons.
I think Trudeau's main strength is that he appeals to newspaper staffs and in particular to the editorial page. His sensibility evokes NPR at its most earnest, a very mannered "isn't that obvious?" conformity that embodies the editorial we. There is real wit at work here -- sometimes even a joke with a punchline -- but it's so plainly self-blind that after a few strips it starts to wear thin.
The main weakness -- aside from Trudeau's insularity -- is of course the Trudeau drawing hand. Or claw, as one imagines it to be from the evidence of the crummy, inflexible stylization Trudeau leans on for the Doonesbury look. Artistic chops have never been very crucial in comic strips, but most cartoonists can at least fake a caricature. Trudeau's mediocrity has forced him to claim that his broad symbols (an asterisk for Dubya, a giant hand for Schwarzenegger) are an artistic style as opposed to a cop-out from someone who can barely make his characters look consistent through four panels. For that matter it's hard to imagine how Trudeau's style could ever represent anything other than his own Doonesbury creations, who all look the same.
Trudeau's strip composition exhibits a fidgety POV that spotlights his lack of visual imagination. Side view, silhouette, close-up, three-quarters angle -- it's almost a formula for Trudeau, and one with very few variations. The facial expressions alternate between comatose, glum, and slightly amused -- creating a narrowness of range that is almost schizoid. After all this, the fact that Trudeau brags about how much he's improved since his early days makes one want to break down and weep.
In between comparing himself to Walt Kelly and whining that no one gives him credit for his sloppy pencils (after 26 years the man hasn't learned to ink his own meager output), Trudeau muddles on with Baby Boomer cluelessness. Part of the Doonesbury tradition from the past decade has been its stilted portrayal of anyone younger than 25, as many recent strips demonstrate. The attempts at hip jargon are so pathetic -- "dopest", "dawg" -- that I wonder if it's an elaborate put-on. Why include characters you can't write dialogue for? Maybe it's Trudeau harkening to the strip's collegiate origins, maybe it's a generational narcissism straining to identify with contemporary youth, maybe it's just middle-age desperation. It's all part of the Boomer attitude, I guess. They either detest the more recent generations or they worship them as reflections of themselves. Sometimes both in the same day.
Of course Trudeau's political instincts are as unerring as ever. Whether harping on Schwarzenegger's rowdy behavior, cheerleading Wesley "Help, Mary!" Clark as an intellectual, or getting on the wrong side of every position relating to Iraq, Trudeau is a marvel of the thoughtless conservatism of today's upscale liberal. He represents a faux bohemian class whose political niche appears more like a therapeutic echo chamber than an ideology. They have no solutions to offer, just more bitching.
Trudeau exacerbates the effect with strips that don't read like a dialogue between two characters but like Trudeau talking to himself in a didactic lecture for the reader's benefit. I doubt an example is necessary to anyone who has gotten through more than a week's worth of his material. It's an embarrassing habit moreso because Trudeau does not appear to realize that you can't have a Socratic dialogue with yourself: that's masturbation.
I'm sure Doonesbury fans will respond that Trudeau is amazingly popular (for an editorial comic writer), read by thousands of people, you're just jealous, etc. -- the usual snivelling -- but I suspect the decision to stuff most of the strips onto a cheaply-priced CD-ROM has to do with the inability to market Doonesbury anthologies to new audiences. What relevance do Trudeau's dated strips, dated characters, dated ideas, and dated liberalism have? How many young readers -- sorry, "dawgs" -- are willing to sit through the parental patronizing of Trudeau's writing?
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